August 12, 2011
By Joe McDonald
AP Business Writer
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese bullet train manufacturer announced a recall Friday of 54 trains in the latest embarrassment for a problem-plagued prestige project following a July crash that killed 40 people.
The recall adds to growing signs official attitudes toward the bullet train are shifting and Beijing might scale back its rapid expansion of the high speed rail network. A moratorium on new rail projects was imposed this week and the government announced a reduction in train speeds.
The recall applies to model CRH380BL trains used on the new Beijing-Shanghai line, which has suffered repeated delays blamed on equipment failures, state-owned China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Ltd. said in a statement through the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
It gave no indication the recall was linked to the fatal July 23 collision on a separate line in southern China. The company said it would carry out "comprehensive inspection and rectification" on the trains but gave no other details.
Beijing launched an overhaul of the multibillion-dollar high-speed network after the July crash prompted an avalanche of public complaints about the human cost of rapid, government-driven development.
CNR announced a temporary halt to production of CRH380BL trains this week. A state news agency cited a company manager as saying faulty sensors were believed to be to blame for the stoppages and experts were being sent to examine rail lines.
The bullet train was meant to showcase China's technological advancement and form the basis for possible exports. Chinese bullet train makers have sold rail cars to Malaysia and are working on projects in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
But even before the July crash, the bullet train was a target of critics who said it was dangerously fast and too expensive for a society where the poor majority need more low-cost transportation, not record-setting speeds.
China has the world's biggest train network, with 56,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) of passenger rail. But trains are overloaded with passengers and cargo, and critics say the money would be better spent expanding slower routes.
Critics have expected changes since the bullet train lost its biggest official booster when the former railway minister was dismissed in February amid a graft probe.
Earlier plans called for expanding the network to 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of track by 2020. Authorities have announced no changes but the railway ministry says it is spending less than planned this year on the high-speed system.
Authorities blamed the July crash on a lightning strike that caused one train to stall and a sensor failure that allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it. That caused train cars to fall from a viaduct near the southern city of Wenzhou.